Australia’s next-gen bathhouses blend Japanese and Scandi influences with local design flair to create refreshingly neutral canvases for relaxation. Clare Acheson explores the reclamation of communal bathing.
It has been said that to get more out of life, you need to do a lot less. Australia’s revival of bathing traditions comes at a time when many of us have emerged from an extended period of doing less, with a burning desire to dive shoulder-deep into doing more. Travel, reunions, nightlife and professional catch-ups make up a lengthy list of engagements to be reserved at venues and inked in diaries. It’s thrilling and yet, paradoxically, never before has rest felt quite so necessary.
Relax and restore at Adytum Spa. (Image: Lean Timms)
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that bathing – heralded as an ancient ritual that many of us relish when travelling abroad – has emerged as 2022’s activity trump card. Australia’s new breed of urban bathhouses are the pick of the bunch for some solid #metime. To be suspended in water is quite literally to have a weight taken off, doubly so when our phones are locked away for safekeeping lest they come to an unfortunate watery end.
Take time to pause and draw breathe at Comma. (Image: Tess Kelly)
Inclusivity is a common theme inside these spaces. Boundaries that perpetuate division, such as gender separation and even clothing, are set aside in favour of unspoken unison. Let’s face it: between travel restrictions, vaccine mandates and the May federal election, there’s been a lot to remain divided on. So it’s refreshing, then, to see businesses step forward to break down binaries that have been keeping us apart, both literally and metaphorically.
Architecturally, ideas call upon our collective travels with inspiration drawn from Japanese onsens, Finnish saunas and Nordic ice-bathing traditions woven together by local talent into clean aesthetics that put mindful experiences at the forefront.
Indulge in self-care at Sense of Self, which is an oasis of calm. (Image: Martina Gemmola)
Sense of Self, Melbourne
Photogenic Melbourne retreat Sense of Self pioneers what its founding duo describes as “healthy hedonism”, which has been designed to be accessible to all. Run by filmmaker Mary Minas and hotelier Freya Berwick, the bathhouse is set up in an industrial factory building that was reworked by an all-female design team that included members of Setsquare Studio, Chamberlain Architects and Hearth Studio. Once inside, it’s impossible to ignore the architecture’s grounding permanence, which is an ode to terrazzo, living copper, concrete and sandstone.
Switch your phone to ‘SOS only’ at Sense of Self. (Image: Martina Gemmola)
All areas are gender-neutral and a shared mineral bath that’s the size of a small swimming pool features an accessibility hoist so that no visitors are left high and dry. Add an 80°C Finnish sauna, a steam room, chilled plunge pool and bowls of free-flowing healthy nibbles, and it’s easy to lose track of your two-hour booking window.
Nestled amid Collingwood’s trendy bars and restaurants, this bathhouse also offers massages and runs occasional nude bathing evenings; swimmers optional.
Soak up the space at Sense of Self, Melbourne. (Image: Martina Gemmola)
Shifting the dial away from lavender-scented massages and pricey facials is Comma, situated in Cremorne’s compact backstreets in Melbourne. Opened in 2020 mid-lockdown, the outpost of the popular Byron Bay wellness treatment centre is dedicated to the ambient effects of being cocooned away from the city and left to your own devices.
Punctuate your day with a treatment at Comma. (Image: Tess Kelly)
A considered, multi-layered design steps your senses down a notch. Hidden within what was once a mechanic’s workshop, Comma features a huge 18,000-litre cedarwood bath, cold-water shower area and infrared sauna that all nod to Scandinavia. There are also obvious influences from Japan, with wooden partitions and split-level mezzanines separating guests from all the worries of the outside world. Sure, it’s indulgent, but it’s also practical, as it leaves you immediately revived. Best of all: you can visit during your lunch break.
Comma is a stylish Japandi (Japanese-Scandinavian) space where visitors can enjoy massages, bathing in a circular cedarwood bath and infrared saunas. Note: spa treatments are only on offer at the Byron Bay location.
Cocoon yourself away at Comma in Melbourne. (Image: Tess Kelly)
This hidden bathing oasis in Braddon takes its cues from Ancient Greece with a contemporary wellness twist.
In Canberra, Adytum is the city’s standout dedicated bathing destination. Founder Renee Douros notes gender neutrality as being key to the design of the apothecary-style space, which encapsulates bathing and sauna experiences, wellness treatments, a yoga studio, elixir bar and cafe. Designed by Pattern Studio, the Sydney-based outfit behind The Daily Edited’s stunning retail spaces, the architecture champions concrete, wood, brass and balanced aesthetics, encouraging visitors to dedicate an entire day to recharging through reading, resting and dining.
Try the lotions and potions at Apothecary Lab at Adytum. (Image: Lean Timms)
That Adytum’s Ancient Greek name denotes the innermost sanctuary of a temple is twofold and poses the question: What can be found in visitors’ internal chambers once the hustle and bustle is stripped away?
Find a way to wellness at Adytum, Canberra. (Image: Lean Timms)
Soak Bathhouse, Brisbane and Mermaid Beach
Of course, for the days when a peppermint tea or chamomile just won’t cut it, there are swanky spaces that offer a glass of something more fortifying while you’re soaking in wholesome minerals. Gold Coast transplant Soak in Brisbane’s CBD boasts cityscape views that can be enjoyed with a cocktail while catching up with old friends or making new ones.
In fact, owner Alexis Dixon hopes that Soak’s modern design brought to life by Space Cubed Design Studio, which usually designs bars and restaurants, will encourage mingling outside of regular social circles and forming new connections with others who value what you value: micro-dosing relaxation to maintain balance in busy lives.
Beautifully styled spaces are a hallmark of the new bathing experience. (Image: Martina Gemmola)
In a world where busyness is so often worn as a badge of honour that quickly becomes a burden to bear, bathing in spaces that are as visually appealing as they are physically restorative is a ritual that deserves to be moved up the to-do list. A reminder that rest is radical, achievable and totally worth our while.